summer heat exercise safety

Summer fitness tips for avoiding heat exhaustion and heat strokes

As the days heat up, it becomes easier and easier to put off exercise. Soaring temperatures can zap the life right out of you. However, physical activity is just as important in the summer as it is in any other season. Help yourself stay active with these summer fitness tips.

Dive into aquatic fitness
Swimming pools remain a popular place in the summer, but did you know that the pool also holds countless fitness opportunities? Gyms and community centers offer a variety of exercise classes including water aerobics, kickboxing, yoga and even Pilates. Water weights, flotation belts and other equipment help increase the resistance and provide a great workout. Not only can you stay cool, but you can also stay fit!

Move exercise indoors
As the summer sun sizzles, moving exercise indoors can help you stay motivated as well as provide a safer option for exercise. Don't have a gym or community center membership? Try working out to exercise DVDs in the cool comfort of your home. If that doesn't satisfy, take a trip to the mall and walk up and down it at a good clip. Just don't sabotage your activity with a trip to the food court.

Change up your routine
If you can't resist the urge to head outdoors for physical activity, consider changing the time of day you work out. Early in the morning or after the sun goes down are the best times to help avoid overheating. Exercising in hot, humid weather increases your body temperature and puts extra pressure on your heart and lungs. Even your usual level of exertion coupled with high temps can lead to heat cramps, heat exhaustion or even heatstroke.

If exercising outdoors, keep these safety tips in mind:

  • Take frequent rest and water breaks (carry a water bottle with you throughout the day).
  • Avoid beverages with alcohol, caffeine or high sugar content, as they can cause dehydration. Add a wedge of lemon or lime slices if it encourages you to drink more.
  • Wear light, loose-fitting clothing.
  • Exercise indoors during ozone alerts, heat advisories and high humidity.
  • Take advantage of the shade as much as possible
  • Allow yourself time to get acclimated to the heat
  • Wear sunscreen, hats and sunglasses.
  • Take steps to avoid sunburn.

Stay fit this summer but above all, stay safe!

heat related illness
Can you recognize the signs of heat stroke and other heat related illnesses?

Do any of these factors apply to you or someone you know:

  • Elderly or very young (0-4 years of age)
  • Overweight
  • Prescription drug or alcohol use
  • Suffering from heart disease, high blood pressure, poor circulation, mental or other illnesses
  • Involved in strenuous outdoor activities
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If so, be watchful for the following heat-related illnesses: heat rash, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke:

Heat rash. Caused by excessive sweating under hot, humid conditions, heat rash often appears as a patch of red pimples or small blisters on the neck, chest, groin or inner elbow creases. For treatment, move to a cooler, less humid area and keep the affected area dry. Dusting powder may help relieve the discomfort.

Heat cramps. When someone perspires excessively during strenuous activities, they can become dehydrated and depleted of body salts -- and heat cramps can occur. Symptoms are painful muscle cramps or spasms. Unless the person suffers from heart-related problems, is on a low-sodium diet, or has other health conditions which requires medical attention, the affected person should relax in a cool spot, drink water or sports beverages, and wait several hours before returning to strenuous heat-related activities. Without a proper recovery, heat cramps can lead to heat exhaustion or heat stroke. (To replenish salt levels, do not consume salt tablets unless directed to do so my your doctor. The safest way to maintain a healthy salt level is through your diet and drinking fruit juices or sports beverages during times of heavy sweating.)

Heat exhaustion. After several days of high temperatures and inadequate hydration, a person can suffer from heat exhaustion. Symptoms may include paleness, heavy sweating, fatigue, weakness, muscle cramps, dizziness, headache, nausea, fainting, rapid and weak pulse, rapid and shallow breathing, and the skin often feels cool and moist. Treatment involves cooling, relaxing and hydrating the person immediately. Untreated, heat exhaustion can progress to a life-threatening heat stroke.

Heat stroke. The most severe heat-related illness, heat stroke can lead to death or permanent brain, liver, kidney or other organ damage. With heat stroke, the body can no longer regulate its cooling system -- internal temperature can soar rapidly (above 103F) and sweating ceases (the skin is red, hot and dry to the touch). Other symptoms may include a rapid, strong pulse, throbbing headache, dizziness, nausea, confusion or unconsciousness. In the case of heat stroke, call for emergency medical assistance immediately. In the meantime, try to cool the body rapidly with cool bath, cool shower, sponging with cool water or wrapping in a cool, wet sheet. Continue cooling until the body temperature drops below 101F.

What steps can be taken to prevent heat-related illnesses?

  • Avoid strenuous outdoor activities
  • Drink adequate amounts of non-alcoholic fluids
  • Wear lightweight clothing
  • Seek out any available air conditioning
  • Regardless of the outdoor temperature, under no circumstances should children, disabled, pets or any at-risk individuals be left unaccompanied in vehicles
  • During periods of extreme heat, check in on elderly, chronically ill, or any one who may be living alone to assure their safety

According to the Centers for Disease Control, between 19999-2003, 3,442 heat-related deaths occurred in the US -- which outnumbers the deaths from lighting, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and floods combined! Tragically, if the proper precautions had been followed and timely care given, virtually all of these deaths could have been prevented.

To learn more about dangers, symptoms and treatments of health-related illnesses, visit Centers for Disease Control: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) About Extreme Heat

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Showing comment(s)
Shirley M.
January 12, 2012
I've heard some folks say that it's best to drink room temperature water when you're working out in hot temperature -- and that drinking cold water sort of shocks your system, closes sweat pores, and prevents the body from cooling. Others say that cold water cools you down quicker. Does anyone know which answer is correct?
January 16, 2012
Heat exposure's not the only concern if you're exercising outdoors in summer... don't ignore the serious health consequences of simple, old sunburns. The Skin Cancer Foundation says that even a single blistering sunburn for children may double their lifetime risk of developing melanoma skin cancer in their lifetime.
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